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Damnak development

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Chhon Chhern, the chief aide to Wat Damnak’s head monk. Photo by: THIK KALIYANN

A new Buddhist institute opening inside Wat Damnak next year will cement the pagoda’s reputation as one of the most beautiful and tranquil places to study in Siem Reap, according to Chhon Chhern, the chief aide to Wat Damnak’s head monk.

Once a Khmer Rouge military depot, Wat Damnak is now home to the largest public library in Siem Reap, and with the opening of the $30,000 Kossamak Nearyroath Institute of Buddhist Studies in early 2012, the pagoda will continue to provide education to both monks and the public, Chhon Chhern told 7Days.

“The new institute will open next year and has space available for 50 students,” said Chhon Chhern. “We are spending $30,000 to fix an old building in Wat Damnak and buy supplies for the students. We didn’t change the building, it’s still the same style, but it is nearly 80 years old and needed to be fixed.”

Other buildings inside Wat Damnak, over the bridge from the Old Market, are over 100 years old according to Chhon Chhern. They include a central gold pagoda containing a statue of Buddha, and several smaller meeting and prayer rooms arranged in a square formation around the central pagoda.

The meditative surrounds of the wat are reinforced by a large ornamental pond containing fish and turtles and an idyllic garden next to traditional Buddhist stupas containing the cremated remains of pious citizens.

As well as the new Buddhist institute, Wat Damnak also boasts a public library established by the Centre for Khmer Studies in 2001. It holds more than 10,000 books. Chief librarian Oum Daraneth told 7Days that the Centre for Khmer Studies decided to establish its library inside the pagoda because of its quiet natural beauty.

“This is the only big public library in Siem Reap which can keep more than 10,000 books, and we have a lot of important documents here, including books that can reveal more about Khmer traditions, such as making musical instruments. We regularly have more than 60 students, researchers, tour guides and Buddhist monks that come to read or study in silence with us each day.”

The library, open from Monday to Saturday with no charge to visitors, is the largest public academic library in Cambodia outside of Phnom Penh, and the second most important for the social sciences and humanities in the Kingdom.

It has recently doubled in size, at a cost of $300,000, following the construction of a new research building which was officially opened by King Norodom Sihamoni in January of last year. ​

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